• Does the U.S. Need an Office of Contingency Operations for Future Reconstruction Adventures?

    October 24, 2013 // 14 Comments »




    The oft-repeated pop psychology definition of mental illness– doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results– pretty much sums up America’s limp efforts at reconstruction, nation building, hearts and minds, counterinsurgency, whatever tag you choose.

    Efforts failed spectacularly and expensively in Iraq and (ongoing) in Afghanistan, and just as significantly, though more quietly, in Libya. With Obama having morphing into McCain like an old werewolf movie scene and calling for more wrath in Syria or wherever, it is obvious that the U.S. intends to stay in the nation building business.

    The Return of the Jedi

    One guy with some experience in the trade thinks he has a better idea of how to do this. Stuart Bowen was the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and produced a series of reports that year-by-year carefully documented America’s failure in Iraq to reconstruct much of anything. Whereas in my own book, We Meant WellI sought to document such failures on the local scale, Bowen’s assessments were Jedi-like, sweeping and Iraq-wide. Through the seemingly endless years of that war, Bowen shouted into the darkness about the waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq. His organization actively sought criminal prosecutions of those doing the wasting and the corrupting. This guy was born with both fists up, and good for him about that.

    In a working document Bowen’s office shared with me, the story is this:

    Who should be accountable for planning, managing, and executing stabilization and reconstruction operations (SROs)? The U.S. government’s existing approach provides no clear answer. Responsibilities for SROs are divided among several agencies, chiefly the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the United States Agency for International Development. As a result, lines of responsibility and accountability are not well-defined.

    The lack of an established SRO management system forced the U.S. government to respond to challenges in Iraq through a series of ad hoc agencies that oversaw stabilization and reconstruction activities with—unsurprisingly—generally unsatisfactory outcomes.


    A New Hope

    Bowen suggest a new solution, comprising a collection of targeted operational reforms and the creation of an integrated management office— the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO)— that would be accountable for planning and executing SROs. You can read more details about his proposed new agency.

    As almost an air-tight endorsement of the idea, both State and Defense oppose it. Bowen explained that both agencies believe that the existing management structure, which diffuses duties between and among varying agencies, is preferable to implementing a new, consolidated system. State believes that SRO problems chiefly arise from insufficient resources and not management weaknesses (Note: A lack of money, and not management problems, is State’s default answer to nearly everything from failure in Iraq to failure in Benghazi).

    The Empire Strikes Out

    While the reality is that just about nobody in Congress will support creation of a new government entity in the current political climate, the Obama Administration remains hell-bent to do some more nation building. If nothing new is tried (that mental illness definition again!) nothing new will happen. Failure is assured. Again. Bowen’s idea is worth looking into as a possible way to break the loop.

    At the same time, a new organization sitting around the table with no purpose other than to tuck into reconstruction may be more dangerous that you think. The bureaucratic rules of evolution that govern Washington say any organization, once spun up, will seek more resources and more reasons to continue to exist. Would having a new office for SRO work simply create another strong voice inside government in favor of more SRO operations?

    The jury is still out on how best to proceed. The best way to win at Fight Club is not to get into it in the first place. Is it too much to dream that maybe the U.S. will just stop invading and intervening abroad, and perhaps create an office designated to reconstructing America instead?



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Listen to Me!

    April 2, 2013 // 18 Comments »

    Only my dog really listens to me, and she gets a Scooby treat in return.


    However, if you’d like to listen to me voluntarily, Fox News and I celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of the Iraq War together.


    Or maybe a story about Wikileaks guy Bradley Manning from Rolling Stone, with my quotes.

    I also spoke with CCTV, one of China’s largest broadcasters, about Iraq.

    For another version, stop by this link to the Peter B. Collins show to check out a recent interview.


    Or, drop by WMNF 88.5 FM for more interview fun.


    Also STAND UP! with Pete Dominick had me on.


    One more, from Jonathan Pickering.


    Or this one, a fave, from Louisville.


    The interviews focus on last week’s report by Inspector General Stuart Bowen on the billions lost to waste, fraud, abuse, and stupidity on reconstruction in Iraq. I note that all of those responsible– except me– have been promoted, some to repeat these same costly mistakes in Afghanistan. In invading Iraq, the US did more to destabilize the Middle East than anyone imagined and that the US will pay the price for it for a long, long time. Listen up.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    SIGIR Speaks

    March 27, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    The We Meant Well wrap-up of the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion was unfortunately tainted by several gallons of bile spilled on to my keyboard as I typed. It is important to note that while most of the U.S. Government people involved in Iraq well-deserved all the bile spattered their way, there were those who did try. So thus I owe a bit of an apology for the slam dunk I took on the Special Inspector General for Iraq, SIGIR, a few days ago.

    Fair is fair; I wrote:

    SIGIR, like everything else associated with the Iraq reconstruction, was expensive. The inspectors cost taxpayers $16 million this year, a bargain compared with the $30 million a year they used up during the war era itself.

    The people at SIGIR, who clearly held the least-loved jobs in all of Iraq, were kind enough to write to me and point out that they were trying hard to be part of the good guys. They also ran at something of a profit. SIGIR wrote:

    SIGIR pointed out that in its final report it stated that the financial benefits accomplished by SIGIR’s work included more than $1.61 billion from audits and over $191 million from investigations.

    That works out to $2,329,268 recovered for the U.S. taxpayers per investigation, which is a pretty good return on investment. That is not counting perhaps another approximately $100 million we expect to recover by the time SIGIR closes.


    I hasten to add that the scale of bad money collected by SIGIR is important not only for the dollar amount itself, but also as a sign of just how much freaking money was being spent/stolen during the Iraq campaign. The mind spins.

    And for those in the Washington DC area, the SIGIR Inspector General Himself, Stuart Bowen, will speak today, Wednesday, March 27, 1:00 – 3:00, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Conference Room B1 A/B, 1800 K Street, NW, Washington DC, 20006.

    If you can’t make the speech, you can read Learning From Iraq, A Final Report From the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction online and weep quietly alone at home as I will be doing.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Why Being So Right Feels So Bad

    March 22, 2013 // 21 Comments »

    Gentle readers, allow me a moment of angry self-congratulation. I’ll be back to normal with the next posting. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy.


    I was right. When they print the next edition of my book, I’m going to change the title from We Meant Well to I Told You So.

    I spent a year in Iraq as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, leading two of the then-vaunted Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We were charged with nothing less than winning the war for America by rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, creating a functioning democracy and stable economy, and thus ensuring Iraq would be an ally of the United States in the war on terror. As it became more and more apparent to me over the course of my time in Iraq that we were accomplishing none of those goals (while simultaneously wasting incredible amounts of money), I was compelled to tell the American people what I saw. It would be both a lesson for history and a warning about similar efforts already under way in Afghanistan. I wrote a book and lost my career of 24 years at the State Department as a result.

    What if Iraq Turns Around?

    When, in 2010, I sent the first draft of We Meant Well, about the waste, fraud, mismanagement, and utter stupidity surrounding the Iraq reconstruction efforts, to my editor, I remember her saying, “You know the book itself won’t come out for close to a year, and if things turn around in Iraq in the meantime, that will make you look wrong.” I told her not to worry.

    When the book did come out in September 2011, most of the interviewers I met with threw in skeptical comments: “Well, maybe it will work out like in Japan,” they said, or “It’s too early to tell.” When I met with staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2012, they said, “We’d like to believe you, but everything that State tells us contradicts your thesis that the money spent was just a big waste.” Foreign Policy felt the need to run an angry rebuttal (“The greatest assets in many respects were our ‘clients,’ the Iraqi ministers, provincial officials, and local residents who were active and engaged at every level”) to an excerpt from my book.

    Failure Made Official

    Well, now it’s official. Although it took 10 years for the report to come out, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), “$60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.”

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said “that $55 billion could have brought great change in Iraq,” but the positive effects of those funds were too often “lost.”

    Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country’s top Sunni official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts did not “achieve the purpose for which it was launched. Rather, it had unfavorable outcomes in general.”

    There “was usually a Plan A but never a Plan B,” said Kurdish official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

    Shiite, Sunni, Kurd. Trust me, about the only thing everybody agrees on is the United States spent a bundle of money. According to the Associated Press, to date the United States has spent more than $60 billion in reconstruction grants on Iraq. That works out to about $15 million a day. Overall, including all military and diplomatic costs and other aid, the United States has spent at least $767 billion since the U.S.-led invasion began. Some funds are still being spent on ongoing projects.

    I Told You So

    I hate to say I told you so — but I told you so. SIGIR, if you’re out there, perhaps it would have been better to agree to meet with me back in 2009. I could have saved you some time and money. SIGIR, like everything else associated with the Iraq reconstruction, was expensive. The inspectors cost taxpayers $16 million this year, a bargain compared with the $30 million a year they used up during the war era itself.

    We all know that we study history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, so with the dreadful example of Iraq now clear, we can draw from it to avoid repeating the errors in Afghanistan. In fact, speaking of book titles, my volume on the Iraq failures was originally supposed to be called Lessons for Afghanistan from the Reconstruction of Iraq, before the editor thankfully nudged me toward the snarkier We Meant Well.

    What Went Right?

    And yet … and yet … only the day before the SIGIR report on Iraq was issued, this magazine ran a long piece by Peter Bergen titled “What Went Right.” The piece talks about al Qaeda on the run from Afghanistan (without mentioning how well the franchises in Iraq and North Africa are doing), cites gains in cell-phone usage (without discussing how much is due to billions of U.S. aid dollars dumped on the local markets), talks about how the Taliban have been vanquished (without understanding an insurgency avoids head-on clashes just before the other guys pack up and go home), and describes aspects of Kabul as “thriving” (based most likely on a conversation with some taxi driver). Incredulously, Bergen writes, “U.S. and other NATO forces have taken care to ensure that their soldiers do not contribute to the civilian death toll. Indeed, some American cities are today more violent than Afghanistan. In New Orleans, residents are now around six times more likely to be murdered than Afghan civilians are to be killed in the war” and concludes, “Maybe, not too long from now, a new generation of guidebooks will again be raving about the joys of springtime in the Hindu Kush.”

    Quite sadly, one only need change “Afghanistan” to “Iraq” in the article, and it could have been published in 2010, right down to the last line about tourists: The United States spent millions of dollars building tourist infrastructure around Iraq’s ancient archaeological sites for naught. It idiotically helped sponsor the “Iraq Tourism Week” expo in Baghdad in 2009.

    Meanwhile, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has been issuing its own reports, saying among other things that “a significant portion” of the U.S. government’s $400 million investment in large infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2011 alone may have been wasted because of poor planning. In an episode that could have come straight out of my book — except that it took place years later in Afghanistan — SIGAR released an inspection of the Imam Sahib Border Police company headquarters in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. The $7.3 million facility was built to hold 175 people, “yet only 12 were on site and no one was aware of any plans to move additional personnel to the facility. The personnel did not have keys to many of the buildings and most of the facility appeared to be unused. Additionally, there is no contract or plan to train personnel in the operations and maintenance of the facility raising questions about its sustainability.” There are many, many more examples.

    History Repeats Itself

    In asking why such mistakes are being repeated, one need only look at the people involved: A large percentage of the State Department personnel on the ground in Afghanistan are veterans of the Iraq reconstruction, as are the soldiers reconstructing alongside them. The same two U.S. Ambassadors (Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker) ran both embassies at different times. Most of the lame and unskilled hirelings who worked with me in Iraq moved over to identical roles in Afghanistan, and even one of my old bosses found work in Afghanistan after retirement from State. On the macro level, the same massive contracting firms and security mercenaries continue to make bank. The fat paychecks help keep everyone looking the other way about “progress” and thus on-message.

    Despite SIGAR finding that “delays, cost overruns, and poor construction of infrastructure projects … resulted in lost opportunities and in incalculable waste,” the United States and its allies have already committed to $16 billion in economic aid to Afghanistan over the next four years. Costs for maintaining Afghan security forces are expected to come to over $4 billion per year.

    There is a pop-psychology definition of mental illness that applies here: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. And there’s something grim about this. So while it feels good today to know I was right — the reconstruction of Iraq I participated in is now unambiguously acknowledged as the failure I said it was years ago — it still feels bad knowing someone else will need to write an article just like this in a few years, when we tally up the losses in Afghanistan.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Um, I Told You So: Inspector Shows State Dept Mishandled Iraq Money

    October 30, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    So, I, um, like, told you so. And even though I lost my job for telling you so, and even though a related Inspector General opened an investigation into me for telling you so, it’s still nice to learn that what I told you was correct.

    The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released a final report on the State Department’s handling of Quick Response Funds (QRF), money that was handed out in Iraq by Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), two of which I lead in Iraq. Those experiences formed the fodder of my book, We Meant Well. The State Department and its USAID colleagues “managed” about $258 million in QRF funds.

    So taxpayers and patriots, here’s the highlights, in the Inspector’s own words:

    – From the available records, we could generally determine how funds were intended to be used, but we could not assess whether all of the goods and services were actually purchased, received, or transferred to beneficiaries.


    — We reported that DOS’ recordkeeping on fund-use and project-results/outcomes for micropurchases made in 2007 and 2008 was poor, and that documentation in seven project files suggested possible fraud. We recommended that DoS improve its recordkeeping and review all micropurchases initiated in 2007-2008 to determine if other examples of possible fraud, waste, and abuse exist. DoS officials stated that they located almost all documentation that SIGIR found missing from the official files, and that their review of payment vouchers did not indicate that any fraudulent transactions had occurred. However, the officials did not directly address the seven instances of possible fraudulent activities that SIGIR had found.


    — Because there was no evidence that DoS had reviewed and assessed the identified cases of possible fraud, SIGIR initiated this review. Seven of the reviewed assessments re-confirmed our concerns that fraud may have occurred.


    — The QRF Tracking Database shows that of the $125.1 million allocated to the DoS, $24.5 million was used to pay overhead costs for a third party to implement large QRF projects, costs of managing the QRF database, and costs for monitoring and evaluating the QRF program.


    — Project results (also referred to as award results in DoS’s QRF Tracking Database) are important in that they confirm whether or not items or services intended to be purchased were indeed purchased, received, and transferred to beneficiaries. In our review, we found that 90 of the 185 micropurchases (or about 49%) lacked such information. As a consequence, we cannot be certain that individuals used the cash they received to purchase goods and services and that the intended beneficiaries of these goods and services actually received them.


    — Of course, some results were conclusive in a negative way: “this project was probably way ahead of its time and probably should not have been originally funded. Not in use, never used.” (to describe $22,150 in tanks, tools, and supplies purchased for fish hatchery)


    — Another read “the contractor never completed the soccer field. Dirt was added to the field but turf was never laid.” The project file did not have any other documentation that showed actions taken, if any, to address the problems found.


    — Specifically, DoS may never know what it got out of those micropurchases made in the early years because of the lack of documentation showing that the goods or services were delivered. Consequently, it is highly possible that some portions of QRF funds were not used as intended.


    The SIGIR included the State Department’s comments on the report:

    Officials from the Office of Iraq Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs stated that they improved their processes for documenting QRF projects and agreed with SIGIR that cash transactions in conflict and post-conflict environments can be susceptible to fraud and abuse. However, they did not comment further on the possible fraud we found in seven projects we first identified in April 2011, and which served as the basis for this current review.


    An important caveat: SIGIR basically only assessed whether or not the money State thought it spent on widgets actually got spent on widgets, and whether those widgets made it into the right hands. SIGIR made no assessment of the effectiveness of any of State’s spending.

    One hopes that if we ever begin “nation building” here at home, someone other than the thieves, pirates and thugs State hired to eat the money abroad is put in charge.

    Oh, and SIGIR released another report on Friday, that one showing how the Army Corps of Engineers spent money on energy and infrastructure programs in Iraq, but its recordkeeping was so poor that the Corps cannot prove it actually received goods for about $1 billion of the money it spent. The total amount of funds unaccounted for has now reached a staggering $7 billion. But that’s for another book to deal with.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Inspector General: State Department Wasted $200 Million on Iraq Police

    July 31, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    Unrelated News: When the city of Scranton, Pa., found itself down to its last $5,000 in the bank last week, it unilaterally cut the pay of city workers— including police officers and firefighters— to the minimum wage, just $7.25 an hour. “The teenagers who work at the ice cream stand not far from my house, they make $8.50 an hour — that’s a dollar and a quarter more than I now make,” said John Judge, a 10-year veteran firefighter.

    U.S. auditors have concluded that more than $200 million was wasted by the State Department on a training program for Iraqi police that Baghdad says is neither needed nor wanted.

    The Police Development Program— which was drawn up to be the single largest State Department program in the world — was envisioned as a five-year, multibillion-dollar push to train security forces after the U.S. military left last December. A report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), released Monday, found that the American Embassy in Baghdad never got a written commitment from Iraq to participate. Now, facing what the report called Baghdad’s “disinterest” in the project, the embassy is gutting what was supposed to be the centerpiece of ongoing U.S. training efforts in Iraq.

    According to the report, the embassy plans to turn over the $108 million Baghdad Police College Annex to Iraqis by the end of the year and will stop training at a $98 million site at the U.S. consulate in the southern city of Basra. Additionally, the number of advisers has been cut by nearly 90 percent — from 350 to 36.

    SIGIR auditors noted that it “has clearly been difficult” for American diplomats to secure a solid commitment from Iraq’s government to participate in the training program. Still, the report concluded, “the decision to embark on a major program absent Iraqi buy-in has been costly” and resulted in “a de facto waste.”

    In its last on-the-record comments about the failed police program, the State Department stated “We have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq… As you know, we are absolutely committed to supporting Iraqi self-reliance… And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it.”

    All told, SIGIR said the United States spent about $8 billion to train and equip Iraqi police since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

    The Associated Press gently opined that “the findings call into question funding needs at the largest U.S. embassy in the world.”

    I am not so gentle: at a time when American towns cannot afford to pay their own cops a living wage, the State Department diplomats who went ahead with a $200 million program for police in Iraq without local buy-in should be brought to trial for gross waste and mismanagement. This level of incompetence is criminal. This track record demands that State no longer be allowed to touch reconstruction money (Haiti, Afghanistan) without adult supervision. People, we need this money at home. Stop. the. waste.

    Bonus: According to the most recent SIGIR report, the Department of State has 1,235 U.S. government civilian employees and 13,772 contractors (5,737 of whom were providing security services) on the payroll in Iraq.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Final US audit of Iraq Reconstruction Says Billions Wasted

    July 16, 2012 // 9 Comments »

    We all know the feeling. You have a great time on vacation and then come home to see the Visa card bill. What were we thinking? Did we really spend that much on dinner? Who did we think we were buying drinks for the whole bar the last night?

    Well, the US Department of State just had the same experience, only with the filed reconstruction of Iraq and a bill of some $55 billion.

    In what it called its final audit report, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) on Friday spelled out a range of accounting weaknesses that put “billions of American taxpayer dollars at risk of waste and misappropriation” in the largest reconstruction project of its kind in US history. “The precise amount lost to fraud and waste can never be known,” the report said.

    Here’s where I can help. I do know the precise amount lost to fraud and waste: all of it. Every freaking penny. Every dollar spent on Iraq that was not spent on Scranton, Detroit, Cleveland or New Orleans.

    To be fair, the inspector general said that while he couldn’t pinpoint the amount wasted, it “could be substantial.”

    A key weakness found by the inspectors was inadequate reviewing of contractors’ invoices. In some cases invoices were checked months after they had been paid because there were too few government contracting officers. They found a case in which the State Department had only one contracting officer in Iraq to validate more than $2.5 billion in spending on a DynCorp contract for Iraqi police training. “We found this lack of control to be especially disturbing since earlier reviews of the DynCorp contract had found similar weaknesses.”

    In that case, the State Department eventually reconciled all of the old invoices and as of July 2009 had recovered more than $60 million.

    $60 million out of $55 billion dollars. It’s s start right, just like jumping up brings you theoretically closer to the sun. Luckily, the over $66 billion and counting already spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan isn’t being wasted as it was in Iraq, going instead to buying chocolate unicorns and fluffy rainbows.

    If you can handle it (my PTSD gets in the way), the full report is online)




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Billions Wasted, Again: State Likely to Give Up on Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police

    May 26, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    (This article appeared originally on the Huffington Post on May 14, 2012)

    Well, that did not take long.

    The New York Times reports that the State Department, in the face of massive costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, slashed and may soon dump entirely a multibillion-dollar police training program in Iraq that was to have been the centerpiece of post-occupation US presence in Iraq. After all of five months.

    In October I reported on my blog wemeantwell.com that the State Department was on Capitol Hill in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, begging a skeptical Congress for more money for police training in Iraq. “Training” was again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. That latest tranche of taxpayer cash sought by State was one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq. The US has been training Iraqi cops for years. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Ka-ching! Anybody’s hometown in need of $7.3 billion in Federal funds? Hah, you can’t have it if you’re American, it is only for Iraq!

    Ever-reliable State Department tool Pat Kennedy led the pack of fibbers in asking Congress for the cash: “After a long and difficult conflict, we now have the opportunity to see Iraq emerge as a strategic ally in a tumultuous region.” He went on (…and on) promising “robust this” and “robust that.” Best of all, Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.” The Department spends several billion a year on private security contractors to protect the fortress-like Embassy in Baghdad (which itself carries almost a billion dollar price tag, including the indoor pool and Embassy-only bar).

    Don’t Judge Us

    Of course despite the hoary promises by Kennedy of robust oversight and management of the police training program, State blocked inspectors from the US government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction, SIGIR, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, from conducting an assessment of the Department’s multibillion-dollar effort. Kennedy said: We’re from the government, trust us.

    The inspectors had good reason not to trust Kennedy and State. Specifically, the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau had come under fire from SIGIR for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police in Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan. The last SIGIR audit of the State Department’s oversight of the contract concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.”

    State’s track record otherwise with police training also fails severely. The State Department in 2003 was given initial responsibility for training Iraqi police. By 2004, however, State’s efforts were seen as so ineffective, even on an Iraq War scale, that police training was taken away from the suits and folded into the US military mission.

    Water Under the Bridge

    But hey, those previously wasted billions and slapdash attempts to avoid scrutiny by an outside inspector are now like water under the bridge for the State Department, as the entire program is just about ready to collapse anyway.

    The Times reports that the training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100 as costs rose and Iraqi interest fell. State’s latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year. Several colleagues of mine associated with the program report that they are not being asked to stay on, and in fact now rarely even leave their fortified compounds.

    It seems the Iraqis simply do not care for the training State insists they should want. Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training refused to attend the presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit. The Iraqis have also insisted that the training sessions be held at their own facilities, rather than American ones (the State Department spent $343 million building the facilities the Iraqis do not want to use, apparently without asking the Iraqis. The largest of the construction projects, at Baghdad Police College, was recently abandoned unfinished after an expenditure of more than $100 million of your tax dollars). The State Department will not allow the trainers to meet regularly at Iraqi facilities out of fear of terrorist ambush and the insane costs of moving people around Iraq safely. Private security contractors have to be hired by State to escort the private police contractors hired by State.

    Failure to Ask = Failure

    That part about asking the Iraqis what they want might have been key to the State Department’s failure in Iraq police training.

    Stalwart American Ambassador to Iraq Jeffrey, who is desperately seeking to curtail his assignment if State can find a successor whom Congress will endorse, mumbled “I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘O.K., how large is the American presence here?’ How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.” “Some concerns” said Ambassador Jeffrey. Actually, the acting head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry questioned the wisdom entirely of spending so much on a program the Iraqis never sought, the equivalent of shouting “Don’t tase me bro!”

    It’s Always Sunny at Foggy Bottom

    The US Embassy in Baghdad released a hard-hitting reply to all of these developments, saying ““The Iraqi Government and the State Department regularly review the size and scope of our law enforcement assistance efforts to ensure that these programs best meet the needs of Iraq’s security forces… The Police Development Program is a vital part of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.” So that’s settled.

    Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources told the New York Times, “I don’t think anything went wrong. The Iraqis just don’t believe they need a program of that scale and scope.” Apparently Nides, Kennedy and no one at the State Department, none of the thousands of Americans State has in the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad, thought to get the Iraqi opinion of the training program before committing billions of dollars. Next time I suggest think first, spend second, ‘kay?

    Note to Hillary Clinton: Before sending your drones to fib to Congress asking for money that should be spent here at home, and then wasting several billion dollars on a project in some foreign country, ask the foreigners if they actually want it first. If they do not want our help, how about returning the billions to the United States where we can sure put it to good use?

    Note to Congress: The next time State comes asking for money, check if their lips are moving. That means they are lying to you. Please cut them off; they’re like drunks loose in Vegas and can no longer help themselves. It’ll be a mercy killing at this point.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Guess Who Said It

    February 3, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    I’d like to share a few quotes, and you try and guess whether they came from my book, We Meant Well, or from somewhere else. Five points for each correct answer; anyone who scores 20 or more wins a free trip (one way) to Iraq. Bonus points if you can guess to whom these were directed.

    Here we go:

    As a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, I was proud when I swore in at the State Department. By the middle of 2007 that changed. I was ashamed for my country.

    Pax Americana will not be achieved with the Foreign Service and the State Department’s bureaucracy at the helm of America’s number one policy consideration. You are simply not up to the task, and many of you will readily and honestly admit it.

    At stake, as a whole, is not only the success of the mission, the lives of Americans and the future of a country for which we must now bear some responsibility, but also hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted and poorly managed.

    After a year at the Embassy, it is my general assessment that the State Department and the Foreign Service is not competent to do the job that they have undertaken in Iraq. The problem is institutional. The State Department bureaucracy is not equipped to handle the urgency of America’s Iraq investment in blood and taxpayer funds. You lack the “fierce urgency of now.”

    Foreign Service officers, with ludicrously little management experience by any standard other than your own, are not equipped to manage programs, hundreds of millions in funds, and expert human capital assets. It is apparent that, other than diplomacy, your only expertise is your own bureaucracy.

    The American people would be scandalized to know that, throughout the Winter, Spring and Summer of 2007, even while our Congress debated the Iraq question and whether to commit more troops and more funds, the Embassy was largely consumed in successive internal reorganizations with contradictory management and policy goals. In some cases, administrative and management goals that occupied our time reflected the urgencies and priorities that could only originate in Foggy Bottom and far-removed from the reality or urgencies on the ground. The fact that over 80 people sit in Washington, second-guessing and delaying the work of the Embassy, many who have never been to Baghdad, is an embarrassment alone.

    I would venture to say that if the management of the Embassy and the State Department’s Iraq operation were judged by rules that govern business judgment and asset waste in the private sector, the delays, indecision, and reorganizations over the past year, would be considered willfully negligent if not criminal.

    The Embassy is also severely encumbered by the Foreign Service’s built-in attention deficit disorder, with personnel and new leaders rotating out within a year or less. Incumbent in this constant personnel change is a startling failure to manage and retrieve information. The Embassy is consequently in a constant state of revisiting the same ground without the ability to retrieve information of past work and decisions. This misleads new personnel at senior levels into the illusion of accomplishment and progress. This illusionary process of “changing goal posts,” as one senior official put it, helps to explain why so few goals are scored.

    Overall, the lack of coordination and leadership in key areas (including Rule of Law activity, PRT’s, and others), upon which the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has repeatedly commented, is real and pervasive. The waste of taxpayer funds resulting from such mismanagement is something that only a
    deeply entrenched bureaucracy with a unionized attitude, like the Foreign Service and Main State, could find acceptable.

    The impulse to transform the Embassy into a “normal embassy” displays most starkly the State Department bureaucracy’s endemic problems, including inflexibility and the inability to understand alternative management principles, use expertise and funds in any manner outside the State Department’s normal experience, the inability to respond to the urgency of America’s presence in Iraq, and the inclination to make excuses and blame the Embassy’s failures on others.

    Simply put, Foreign Service officers are not equipped to manage process-oriented assistance programs and yet we have put into their hands hundreds of millions of dollars. Any American graduate school study group could do better.

    The Foreign Service culture has created a situation where important information is kept from vital decision-makers. In my year in Baghdad, I have seen the Embassy intentionally keep information from the State Department in Washington (because “we cannot trust that they will not leak to the press”), and the Commanding General (because “we do not wash our dirty laundry in public”.)

    I have also witnessed a relentless culture of information-hording within the Embassy. The dysfunctional failure to communicate and share information is beyond anything that can be imagined under any circumstances. It is endemic of a bureaucracy that is far beyond its pale of competence and experience.

    The significance of our work in Iraq would suggest that the State Department might need to think outside its box on an information management system that any medium-sized law firm would have.



    Trick questions– none of these quotes come from my book. They were all written in 2008, in a blistering memo from Manuel Miranda, a contractor heading the Office of Legislative Statecraft in Baghdad, to then-Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

    Hell, I did not even quote the entire memo, so go read it for yourself.

    I’m just glad Miranda didn’t decide to write a book about his thoughts on Embassy Baghdad, otherwise I’d be out of a job.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    State Dept Ducks Oversight on Iraq Reconstruction Projects

    January 29, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    The Washington Post has an important article online and in print criticizing the World’s Most Expensive Embassy (c) for choosing to not provide a complete list of all the projects undertaken as part of the reconstruction of Iraq.

    “After eight years, we still don’t have a full account of what it was we provided the Iraqis,” Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in the article. “There was no unity of command, no unity of effort.” The inventory listed 5,289 projects valued at about $15 billion as of June 30, 2011, according to auditors. Bowen said there were actually tens of thousands of projects valued at approximately $40 billion.

    In response, the World’s Most Expensive Embassy (c) in Baghdad said they had negotiated an agreement with Iraq so its government could “focus its limited resources” on large capital projects. Embassy officials also cited bookkeeping of previous agencies and said the auditors’ criticisms failed to recognize that Iraq already has assumed more control over projects.

    Of course this is all, respectfully of course, bullshit.

    Everything funded via CERP (Commanders Emergency Response Program, Army money) is fully documented in a database. Same for everything paid for by State via their QRF (Quick Response Funds), it is all documented in an online database. Every State project carried a unique number (most projects referenced in my book We Meant Well include these unique numbers as references). I am not sure what the other two sources mentioned in the Post refer to, but one of them is likely USAID and they also maintained a database. If the fourth source is US Department of Agriculture, who spent a lot of money in Iraq, those are also well-documented. Any subcontractors hired were required to report on their projects.

    So if this information is available for all of the effort of hitting the “print” button, why conceal it?

    State most likely wants to hide a lot of its waste and mismanagement, as well as bury the many smaller projects that “walked away” as the Iraqis simply sold them off, dismantled them or noticed that what the US claimed was built or bought never really existed. State has no interest in having some of its more comical, stupid and pointless efforts exposed, as hinted at on Foreign Policy.com.

    State continues to insist no independent agency, such as SIGIR, has jurisdiction to oversee its work in Iraq. Does anyone still wonder why State insists no oversight applies?



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    More and more people are ratting out their associates: Corruption in Iraq, Afghanistan Booming

    November 2, 2011 // Comments Off

    Good news! While the Occupy Baghdad and Occupy Kabul protests have so far failed to draw a crowd, the various Inspector Generals for those two popular wars are rooting out wicked Wall Street-levels of corruption. “This is a boom industry for us,” Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, or SIGIR, said in an interview.

    The rise in caseloads derives partly from spinoff investigations, where suspects facing prosecution lead investigators to other suspects, said Jon Novak, SIGIR’s assistant inspector general for investigations. “More and more people are ratting out their associates.”

    Recent cases include a Marine in Iraq who sent home $43,000 in stolen cash by hiding it in a footlocker among American flags. A soldier shipped thousands more concealed in a toy stuffed animal, and an employee at the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad tricked the State Department into wiring $240,000 into his Jordanian bank account.

    Note that the State Department is currently fighting with Congress over whether or not SIGIR will be allowed to investigate naughtiness in Iraq once State takes over the mission completely next year. Surprisingly, State would prefer not to have the scrutiny, promising instead to police itself.

    Read the whole article, from the Associated Press, for more laffs!



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Money Down the Drain: Falluja Sewer System

    October 31, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    In an endless search for the perfect allegory for the whole failure of reconstruction in Iraq, the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) offers up the Falluja sewer system in a report issued October 30.

    An insurgent strong hold, the city of Falluja saw fighting more reminiscent of the house-to-house hell of Stalingrad than anything imagined for a counterinsurgency campaign. The massive sewer system the US wanted to put in place would be a symbol of change for the city. Yet continued heavy fighting, poor planning, unrealistic cost estimates and inadequate funding led to significant cost-overruns and delays in constructing the city’s new wastewater treatment system. After seven years and the expenditure of over $100 million dollars, the backbone of a waste water treatment system is now almost reluctantly in place, servicing the toilets of approximately 38,400 residents.

    While some sort of forward movement, this is far short of the 100,000 residents originally intended to benefit from the system. Completion of the existing backbone facility was years late and millions of dollars over budget, leaving Falluja’s streets torn up and in disrepair for years. Many people, including State Department contract personnel, died while working on the project.

    The project started with the Bush-era connections that characterized the contracting side of the Iraq war. Fluor Corp, the company that won the contract, had the cuddly links that flourish in Washington. Suzanne H. Woolsey, wife of former CIA director R. James Woolsey, joined the board of Fluor in January 2004. Just months later, Fluor was awarded $1.6 billion in Iraq reconstruction projects, including the Fallujah sewage plant.

    The work on the system began in 2005, and by mid-2009 the US was declaring the system “three-fourths complete and is expected to go into operation before the end of the year.” “We’re in fact a $100 million raging success,” said Peter Collins, who was chief engineer on the project from August 2006 to May 2009.

    To claim any measure of success in Falluja because the project was less than a total failure is to miss the point. While ostensibly about waste water, this project had the goals of enhancing local citizens’ faith in their government, delivery essential services, building a service capacity within the local government, winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi populace and boosting employment for young men who were otherwise recruitable by the insurgency. In short, the sewer system had as its goals the same things the reconstruction as a whole tried to do.

    The full SIGIR report on the Falluja sewer system makes for sad, almost mandatory reading for those interested in why we may have meant well, we did not succeed.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Markup at Macy’s: USG W-A-Y Overpays in Iraq

    August 11, 2011 // 4 Comments »

    Maybe this is a good way to create jobs: have the US Government wildly overpay for things, pumping millions of dollars into the economy. It seems to have worked, actually, albeit in the United Arab Emirates.

    According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), a United Arab Emirates-based logistics contractor billed Defense Department authorities in Iraq for parts at prices marked up as high as 5,000 percent and 12,000 percent.

    A review of a $119 million reconstruction and logistics contract with Anham LLC questioned almost 40 percent of its costs, including:

    – $900 for a control switch valued at $7.05 (a 12,666 percent increase);

    — $80 for a small segment of drainpipe valued at $1.41 (a 5,574 percent increase);

    — $75 for a different piece of plumbing equipment also valued at $1.41 (a 5,219 percent increase);

    — $3,000 for a circuit breaker valued at $94.47 (a 3,076 percent increase);

    — $4,500 for another kind of circuit breaker valued at $183.30 (a 2,355 percent increase).

    Meanwhile, we have no money at home for schools, roads, social security or snacks at meetings.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Victory is Ours: Iraq Less Safe Than a Year Ago

    August 1, 2011 // Comments Off

    We didn't quit when the Germans bombed Pearl HarborI’ve finally figured this all out: Iraq is part of the upside down world, where everything is the opposite of “our” reality. So, after eight years of war and 4473 American dead and over 100,000 Iraqi dead and a couple o’ trillion dollars spent, the recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) is good news!

    “Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work,” Stuart Bowen of SIGIR said in the report published on Saturday. “It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago.”

    He added the transition of responsibility for reconstruction from the US military to the embassy was occurring “against the backdrop of a security situation in Iraq that continues to deteriorate.”

    Bowen noted June was the deadliest month for US military personnel since April 2009, and that April-July saw the highest number of assassinations of senior Iraqi officials since SIGIR began tracking such figures (emphasis added after I blew coffee out through my nose).

    He warned that while joint efforts by the US and Iraq had lowered the threat posed by insurgent groups, “foreign militias have become cause for concern,” and added that the past quarter “also saw an increase in the number of rockets hitting the International Zone and the US embassy compound as well.”


    Full report, or summary, take your pick.

    The US Embassy in Baghdad declined comment on the SIGIR report, referring requests for a response to the State Department in Washington (true).

    The State Department in Washington was closed for the weekend, and so issued no comment. Officials responsible for commenting were reportedly at the Jos. A. Banks sale, stocking up on smart khaki slacks and blue blazers for the much-anticipated “casual Friday” hootenanny scheduled next week at Foggy Bottom (satire, maybe).



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    State Fumbles $172.4 Million Intended For Afghan Police Training

    July 15, 2011 // Comments Off

    Some things just don’t go well together: hot dogs and ketchup, cats and dogs, and the State Department and contracting.

    Just doesn’t work.

    You’ll recall State Management Droid Pat Kennedy, back in early June, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer contracts.

    And then we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.

    Wonder why State was so shy about allowing inspections? Maybe this will clarify things.

    A new joint audit found that State didn’t properly handle $172.4 million from funds for the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Additionally, the report found that some of those funds went to paying contractors for hours they didn’t work. Some of the money was improperly spent in other areas, even though it was specifically designated for training the ANP.

    The report says that the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs used $22.47 million for “a United Nations contribution, the Federal Prosecutors Program, counternarcotics personnel salaries, travel costs, and a DynCorp equitable adjustment.” Some money went towards ANP salaries but not training as it was intended.

    More than $300,000 went to travel costs from Texas to Washington for DynCorp personnel to attend weekly meetings, even though DynCorp was supposed to have employees in DC who could have attended the meetings. On top of that, the report found that the transportation, hotel and flight costs were all not in compliance with contract regulations.

    One example is of an employee purchasing a round-trip ticket for $355, but then changing his ticket so many times that it ended up costing $1,931. Some travel costs were for five-day trips, even though meetings only happened on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    Overall, the report found that the money was misspent because “State lacked adequate procedures for obligating, monitoring, and deobligating funds for the ANP training program.”



    Meanwhile, in other fucked up contract news, State recently signed another contract, worth $8 million, with ArmorGroup to guard the Kabul Embassy.

    ArmorGroup, you’ll recall, used to hold a contract worth an estimated $189 million to protect the embassy. But that was before the Project on Government Oversight revealed in 2009 that the guard force operated a Lord of the Flies environment, complete with pictures documenting it, of guards peeing on people, eating potato chips out of ass cracks, doing vodka shots out of ass cracks, broken doors after drunken brawls, but not “jamming guys in the ass per se.”

    Onward to victory in Afghanistan!!!!!!!!!!!!



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    State to Congress: Drop Dead

    June 9, 2011 // Comments Off

    Barney Fife Entry into the Foreign Service requires, among other things, that you pass a tough written test, kind of like the SAT, but with less math. To help any readers thinking of joining State, here is a sample question. Let’s see how you do:

    You are in charge of the State Department during a rough budget climate. Your organization has few friends on the Hill, and you are going to be asking for a lot more money for your new duties in Iraq. One project you need cash for– say a billion dollars– is training Iraqi police. The military has done the job for the past seven years, but it will soon be State’s problem to resolve. Do you:

    a) Pick a turf fight with the well-regarded US government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction and force a showdown in front of an already angry Congress;

    b) Expect you’ll lose that fight and go along with the inspection to avoid further damaging your cred on the Hill;

    c) After pulling your head out of your own butt, try to get reassigned to the consular office in Bali and change your name.

    I’m not sure what the correct answer is on the test, but in real life the State Department chose A, have a figth with Congress.

    Someone at State, possibly still suffering from a bad batch of anti-malarials, has refused the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) permission to audit the police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, hoping to change them from bribe taking street thugs into smiling law enforcement professionals. The Iraqis have proved, um, resistant to change and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money.

    The US government has spent $7.3 billion for training Iraqi police since 2003. Some 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”

    State says the Department regards SIGIR jurisdiction as limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building” that the State Department will run after the military mission in Iraq ends on October 1.

    SIGIR is not going away. Their boss said “We are going to try and engage with the State Department and make the case why our statute and past practice demonstrably supports our jurisdiction over the police-development program. I hope they will see the correctness of our position and allow this audit to go forward. If they don’t agree, then I think the Hill might intervene further.”

    On March 31, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to cooperate with SIGIR’s request for information.

    State said no anyway. Oops, make that, Hell No.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

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